The Heat Are (Not So) Stealth Tanking, And That’s OK
by ANDREW WILLIAMS
A lot has already been spoken about the uncertainty facing Miami Heat this season from Dwyane Wade’s contentious departure to Chris Bosh’s health and Heat fans are understandably worried about the future and roster of the Miami Heat. I’m not here to tell you that this is all part of some Master plan but rather his now trademark contingency plan.
In a perfect world where age, injuries and guaranteed contracts didn’t exist the Heat would fielded a starting lineup next year of Goran Dragic (31 years, 16 Million), Dwyane Wade (34 years, 23 Million), Luol Deng (31 years, 18 Million), Chris Bosh, (32 years, 23 Million), Hassan Whiteside (27 years, 22 Million). These are 5 of the 40 biggest contracts in the NBA next season and every one of these players have their limitations from health, to shooting ability and temperament. Fielding a starting lineup worth (worth?) $102 Million is not the worst thing in the world. Basketball, more so than other sports is about familiarity as much as winning. Winning matters greatly but the modern NBA fan demands their teams to win with style and personality and that lineup could have been the perfect Eastern Conference Finals opponents against the Cavaliers.
We’ve seen recent Championship winning teams hold on to their ageing rosters too long (2012 Celtics) or blow up the team too quickly (2011 Mavericks). Curiously enough in both cases, each team were able to fix their rosters shortcomings and rebuild in less than two seasons.
The Heat have had such great success during the Alonzo/ Hardaway, Wade/Shaq and then LBJ, Wade, Bosh eras that it’s easy to forget that they didn’t exist when most of us reading this were born. Expansion teams have always had a transient aura surrounding them and the Heat have learned how to consistently change their image, roster and style of play since their inception in 1988. Pat Riley is the main reason behind this.
The Heat and Pat Riley are inextricably intertwined but the Heat are not Pat Riley’s first team and you always remember your first. After enjoying so much success with his Showtime Lakers, he enjoyed moderate but declining success with his Grit and Grind Knicks and Heat teams. He stumbled into the correct formula with the 2005 which is to combine the Showtime (Wade, White Chocolate, Walker) with the Grind (Alonzo, Shaq, Payton, Haslem). It also helps that team had 4 future hall of famers on them and even that team was unable to replicate their success. Pat Riley learned the virtue of stacking his team with elite veterans but also learned to not wholly depend on them.
Dwayne Wade was the perfect player to anchor his team while he refined his vision. Watching Wade from almost courtside seats with Dakarai in the mid 2000’s when the Heat played lottery teams; Wade got to the basket so easily he might as well have been taking an escalator to the rim. He also was the team’s best passer and defender. I remember leaving the AA Arena only remembering Wade’s magnificent plays and not the final scoreline. Wade was fast building his legacy but as with most sports legacies his production plateaued then declined while his entitlement grew. This is not an indictment of Wade as the NBA is littered with Hall of Famers who refused to adapt their games to suit the changing times. Iverson, Shaq, Kobe are recent examples.
Wade is gone now and there’s not enough space in this article to discuss the reasons surrounding his departure but he was more important to the fans of the heat than to the front office for some time now. When a 34 year old shooting guard leaves a team in free agency it’s not a big loss.
The fact of the matter is the NBA is basically a two team league now (Cavs and Warriors) and there’s a lot of teams already patiently waiting for them to age themselves out of contention. Bosh has likely played his last game in the NBA due to his unfortunate health complications and it’s foolhardy for an 11 time All star, 2 time NBA champion who’s made over $166 Million in his career with $76 more million guaranteed coming his way regardless to risk his life to continue playing. NBA players have a difficult time riding off into the sunset but there’s nothing really to gain from him trying to prolong his career.
Pat Riley might have been surprised by LeBron’s sudden departure but he’s had contingency plans ready for Wade and now Bosh’s departures. The Heat has spent considerable resources to develop the younger talent already on their rosters and they are already seeing the fruits of their labor. The development of Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson and Tyler Richardson is nothing short of remarkable and when combined with the potential of Justise Winslow, the Heat appear to have a glimmer of hope. Hope is for people without plans and Riley’s plan is to lose as many games next season whilst appearing competitive. The Warriors did this in the 2011 season when faced with the prospect of losing their first round pick if it fell outside the top 8(later selected Harrison Barnes with the 7thpick) https://www.businessinsider.com/golden-state-warriors-nba-tanking-2013-5
The Heat currently have a very fluid roster that can play big or small. There’s no uncertainty about roles now. This should be Dragic’s team now with Whiteside as the enforcer. The other 3 starter spots will likely be changed depending on matchups; but the Heat will likely field a traditional lineup of Dragic, Waiters, Winslow, McRoberts, Whiteside or faster lineup of Dragic, Waiters, Richardson, Winslow, Whiteside with Derrick Williams playing anywhere from SF to Center. What really springs out from the heat roster this season is how eminently tradeable their players are.
Since the Heat have not realistic expectations of making the Finals, it would behoove Riley to place feelers out as soon as any other team suffers any injuries or is aiming to make a playoff push. Goran Dragic should take about 20 games to rebuild his value and is equally valuable remaining with the Heat or being traded for a future 1st round pick/younger players.
Why are future picks so important? The 2017 draft is shaping up to be one for the ages both in terms of quality and depth. Any casual fan of the NBA can see how the league has changed to emphasize versatility on offense and defense and this draft has a lot of players who can excel in the modern NBA.
The difference from previous drafts is that 2017 has at least ten potential lottery picks who are oversized for their respective positions.
For point guards there’s, Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Frank Ntilikina, De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith who range from 6’6 to 6’3 , each with outstanding physical tools. They’re all scoring point guards who can defend and they all have good shooting mechanics.
A duo of 6’8’ SG’s in Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum whose floors look to be Harrison Barnes. They will need to show a willingness to shoot open threes in college to become top 2 picks.
We have a trio of PF’s in Harry Giles, Ivan Rabb and Jonathan Jeanne can immediately contribute as pick and roll scorers/defenders and rebounders and in time learn to become jump shooters.
Lastly we have the “unicorn”, 6’11” SF Jonathan Isaac a potential number one pick if he reaches a national audience. I strongly suggest that you watch college basketball as soon as it starts this year so you can get a full season of watching them develop.
Regardless of what picks(or picks) the Heat get, some of these players will invariably fall and will be snatched up by Pat Riley. Ask any NBA excecutive who they prefer long term, Winslow with the tenth pick or Jaylen Brown with the 3rd and Winslow would be the overwhelming favorite. Finding a long term partner for him and Hassan Whiteside should be the goal of this season and any true basketball fan who watches the Heat should be excited at seeing how this season turns out.